Slate quarry jobs at Blaenau Ffestiniog in the balance

Llechwedd slate quarry The quarry owners say the rock face has become too dangerous to be worked

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Workers at a Gwynedd slate quarry closed amid safety fears are waiting to see if they will keep their jobs.

Nineteen quarrymen at Llechwedd in Blaenau Ffestiniog have been off work without pay since Easter after the rock face became too unstable.

Experts are examining a nearby slate vein which could offer a new lease of life after 170 years of operation.

Michael Bewick, director of owners JW Greaves, said: "We are determined that quarrying will not end."

Geological surveys carried out for Llechwedd's owners have shown that there is plenty of slate a few hundred metres up the mountainside at Maenofferen, part of the seam that was first mined in the early 1800s.

JW Greaves, the company which owns the quarry, will find out over the next two months whether the slate in the Maenofferen seam is of good enough quality to quarry.

Trucks at a slate seam A nearby seam is being excavated to see if it can be quarried
Blaenau Ffestiniog Blaenau Ffestiniog is a town built on slate
Deep Mine cabin Some staff have been offered temporary work at the Llechwedd slate caverns tourist attraction

Director Michael Bewick said there was "huge potential and excitement" about the possibility of resuming quarrying at the new location.

"There is two weeks' slate in hand - we decided to lay off most of the staff," he said.

"It's a temporary lay off because we don't want to lose them.

"We finish exploratory work in six weeks time, then we could start thinking about calling people back.

"We know slate is there at Maenofferen, and that it used to be very good quality. The old vein is ideal but we need to check the quality of the stone.

"There should be enough slate for 20 to 25 years in that seam - we are determined that quarrying will not end."

In Victorian times, Blaenau Ffestiniog became one of Wales' largest sources of quality roofing slate, exported worldwide from nearby Porthmadog.

Ffestiniog railway in 1871 The Ffestiniog Railway, pictured here in 1871, was built to serve the slate trade

Llechwedd, which employs 23 people, is one of two quarries in Blaenau Ffestiniog alongside Cwt y Bugail, with a third quarry at Penrhyn, Bethesda, which still employs about 200 people.

Some workers have found short-term placements at the slate caverns tourist attraction but still face an uncertain future.

Erwyn Jones, a town councillor who has worked at the quarry for 14 years, said: "In an area where there is not much work 19 jobs are very important.

"It would be difficult to find similar jobs locally - I'm the third or fourth generation of my family working in the quarry for this company, and a lot of workers have family ties to the quarry.

"It is an uncertain time... and yes, it is worrying."

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